January has long been considered one of the “dump months” when it comes to big-time film releases, and even though studios have since been turning this around (Scream was a hit in January 2022, and Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania will undoubtedly be the big winner this February) the stigma still remains. This past month has been synonymous with “bad movies” for the longest time, but the releases of January 2023 are far from terrible. Sure, there are some duds (there always are, even in the summer months), but since Lenient Critic reviews were few and far between this January, I decided the best way to compile my thoughts would be an all-encompassing roundup of the new releases I was able to see.
It will be hard topping last year, but if this is what the January release schedule looks like, 2023 will be a good year for movies. This I promise you.
The Pale Blue Eye
Based on a novel, and similarly, structured like one, The Pale Blue Eye is not a bad mystery, but one that takes so long to get going in a lead-up to an anticlimax that doesn’t feel earned in the slightest. But at the same time, everyone here (mostly Brits and Aussies) is doing fantastic work, and the nighttime scenes are shot beautifully. I just wish it had gone the extra mile, which I think in this case is (ironically) cutting itself down into a tighter, more engaging tale.
From the creative team behind Malignant comes a more conventional, and somewhat less focused, horror/comedy that is similarly tonally confused. I find myself conflicted with M3GAN: I don’t think it’s very good — especially in terms of cohesiveness and thematic resonance — but I had too much fun to deny it being a good time. It’s hilarious! It’s scary! It’s sad! How can a movie that makes you feel all that really be that bad?
A Man Called Otto
Despite coming off as a relatively traditional “power of friendship” story, it’s not afraid of straying into the darkness, depicting the brutal emotional fallout of losing a loved one and the contemplation of the potential paths that lie ahead. It’s unflinching in its showcase of tortured grief, all while simultaneously telling an endearing and upbeat story of connection and kindness, and with an obvious looming bad guy to boot. The tonal dissonance shouldn’t work as well as it does, but the balance is more charming than anything else. In terms of story and structure, A Man Called Otto can be formulaic and downright emotionally manipulative, but when the aforementioned emotion hits just as hard, its pitfalls seem far less important (to the point of being negligible). On a personal note, any movie that has enough of an impact to make me cry, especially more than once, is one that I will hold in high regard no matter what.
This is way more fun than it had any right to be, and far stranger than I would have expected from a remake of the ’90s hangout movie. At certain points, it feels like a game of celebrity spotting, but I loved being along for the ride regardless of what was happening on-screen. It probably would have gone even further and even bigger had it been given the budget it deserved. In fact, its biggest problem is its connection to the original; had it been freed from those constraints, it could have soared even higher.
Plane is as basic as its title, not absurd enough to capitalize on the fun factor, but exciting enough that I found myself frantically biting my nails during most of its many action sequences. In fact, Mike Colter has said that Plane was going to focus more on character development than straight action, which is partly true — there’s less of an emphasis on how to bridge the jam-packed, guns-blazing scenes of pure excitement, and more care put into the characters than one might expect. But generally, it still feels half-baked, like the characters are secondary to the end goal and eventual payoff. I’m fresh off of watching it, and I could not name any character aside from the lead — which I suppose is effective in and of itself.
Read my full review here.
When You Finish Saving the World
The feature directorial debut of Jesse Eisenberg is what you might expect from one of his performances: awkward, sometimes cringey, but with an undeniable charm you can’t deny. It’s very short and very bittersweet, showing us what happens when hopes for a genuine connection don’t go the way we intend. It’s nothing revolutionary, but there’s a sense of honesty (brutal or not) present here that tends to be absent from many coming-of-age stories.
Recently nominated for Best Picture, Women Talking is the latest from documentarian-turned-narrative director Sarah Polley, and not technically a January movie; however, this is the month in which it received a wide release, despite it being eligible for the upcoming Academy Awards. Covering a multitude of difficult topics and set primarily in one room, Women Talking is a dialogue-based drama featuring several larger-than-life performances that demand your attention and reject your silence. Rooney Mara, Jessie Buckley, Claire Foy, Judith Ivey and Ben Whishaw are the standout performances in an already stellar ensemble.
Action clichés aside, Shotgun Wedding is a definitively straight-to-streaming movie that knows how to utilize the sum of its parts to create something truly special and borderline iconic.
After a month of lighter output, the Lenient Critic is back for February! In the lead-up to the Academy Awards, I will be breaking down the nominees in each category in standalone articles in addition to continuing reviews of new releases.
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